Every morning, I make coffee for the 40-minute-drive from my West Los Angeles apartment to The Rafu’s office in Little Tokyo. But one morning, I grabbed a book instead.
“Please stand clear. The doors are closing.”
On elevated tracks overlooking the half-full parking lot, the train quietly pulled out of Culver City station, heading towards Los Angeles downtown’s skyscrapers, already visible through the window.
It’s been almost two years since the Expo Line opened in 2012 — Metro’s first rail line to connect between Westside and downtown. By 2015, the line will extend to Santa Monica.
Taking a train is natural for me since I grew up in Japan. So when the Expo Line opened in my neighborhood, I was excited for the chance to commute by train.
Unlike trains in Japan, which are crowded at rush hour and sometimes expose women to the risk of being groped, on the Expo Line, I was able to quietly enjoy the view from the window, people-watching, and reading my book.
The 30-minute-ride gives me a sneak peek of a few diverse neighborhoods that I haven’t been to. Seeing the houses, restaurants, and people, my curiosity is sparked: I want to explore these communities beyond the freeway’s walls.
My very first train ride to The Rafu in 2012 was smooth and comfortable until the train arrived at Expo/Vermont station. It suddenly stopped and didn’t leave the station for five, six minutes. Just as passengers were becoming anxious, the driver announced that we should get off the train and wait for another one.
Because of this, I arrived at the Expo Line’s last stop 20 minutes late. To make things worse, I hopped on Dash A at a bus station that eventually goes to Little Tokyo, but by a circuitous route.
How long did my first train trip take? Hold on to your seats. Almost two hours. I had to call my boss to say I would be late to work. By the time I sat down at my desk, I was exhausted.
My evening commute was much smoother, but it still took me an hour and 20 minutes. By comparison, my 11-mile drive home on the Santa Monica Freeway rarely exceeds 50 minutes.
Like many Angelenos who get excited discussing traffic and like discovering the fastest routes, many Japanese in the metropolitan area take pride in being efficient while traveling by train.
So over the last two years, I’ve tried to discover the best train route as well. As far as commuting time goes, however, my best time — an hour and 5 minutes — is still longer than a typical drive.
Let’s take a look at the cost advantage of taking a train. Metro offers free parking for passengers at certain stations, but since Rafu staff members are allowed to park at Centenary United Methodist Church for free, thanks to their generosity, there’s not much advantage regarding the monthly parking fee, which could be as high as $100 a month.
What about the price of gas? According to the website Fueleconomy.gov, my car’s MPG is 20 for city and 27 for highway. Since the freeway is congested, let’s take a city number. A gallon currently costs about $3.95 now, so 11 miles divided by 20 and multiplied by $3.95 equals $2.17 each way by car.
Metro keeps the fare reasonably low: a regular single ride is $1.50 or 55 cents for seniors. My cheapest route is to take the Expo Line and Dash A, which costs me $2 each way, but I’ve found other decent routes that range in cost from $3.50 to $4.50 each direction.
For me, until commuting by train becomes more convenient and cheaper, and faster than driving a car, I probably won’t switch the way I commute. As much as I like train rides, I actually enjoy driving as well — I drive a stick shift.
Speaking of convenience, once Metro’s underground Regional Connector opens up in 2020, I will be all for it. It will connect the Expo, Blue, and Gold Lines, providing a one-seat ride from Santa Monica through Little Tokyo to East Los Angeles, and from Long Beach through Pasadena to Azusa without transferring lines.
Imagine going to Nisei Week by train from Santa Monica. The parade will be right there when you come out from the new Little Tokyo subway station on First Street and Central Avenue. How exciting is that? We now need to be sure to protect our local businesses in Little Tokyo during this construction.
Until then, I will enjoy commuting by car and appreciate riding a train on less busy days and weekends.
Ryoko Nakamura is a reporter for the Japanese section of The Rafu Shimpo and can be contacted at [email protected] Ochazuke is a staff-written column. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.